Nov 15 2009
When you’re ready to submit your novel or comic book to an agent or publisher, these tips will help you make the sell.
1. The only goal of your submission is to convince a publishing professional that your novel or comic book is likely to sell thousands of copies. Nothing else matters.
2. Follow the instructions on their website. Most agents and publishers will have submissions pages that lay out what they want to see. In most cases, it’s best to provide just what’s on the list and nothing else. (Exception: if you’re submitting a comic book script, consider submitting some inked or colored pages even if they aren’t required– these pages will help the editor decide very quickly whether your proposal is serious).
3. Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar. Trying to impress a publishing professional without clean writing is like trying to run a filthy restaurant. It really doesn’t matter how good the cooking is–customers will run out screaming anyway. Proofread or perish. Not many publishing professionals would bet tens of thousands of dollars on an unpolished writer.
4. A first-time novelist MUST finish the manuscript before submitting it for publication. An experienced author can pitch a concept, but an unpublished novelist can’t. Don’t bother trying to write to publishers or agents until your manuscript and synopsis are ready. Comic book writers, you probably need the script and series synopsis for the first issue finished before you can submit. Each publisher has different requirements, though, so check first. For example, Image requires illustrated sample pages but no scripts. In contrast, Dark Horse requires only the first eight pages scripted for a series and a synopsis, but no art.
5. This is a business proposal, so be as specific about your target audience as possible. What is the age of your ideal reader? Gender? Are there any other significant demographic traits? (Note: comic book writers, be aware that most comic book buyers are males between 15-30 years old– publishers may be leery about working with significantly different demographics). Many authors are leery about giving themselves a target audience because they feel like it’ll limit the appeal. “If I say my novel’s audience is guys between 8 and 13, what if it turns out that high school girls also want to read it?” Don’t worry about it. Stating your target audience is primarily important so that the publisher/agent can evaluate whether you have a realistic idea of who your main audience is. This is what Image Comics says about target audiences: “Tell us who the target audience is (‘Everyone’ is NOT realistic — there’s no single book on the market today that everybody buys).” The same goes for novels as well–perhaps two novels out of a million have an almost universal appeal, like Harry Potter. If an author just seems to assume that his book is one of them, he will probably seem clueless.
6. When you’re describing your story, focus on what matters…
- Interesting traits about main characters (like personality and important background details)
- Goals of main character(s)
- Critical choices of main character(s)
- Character development arc(s)– how do the main characters change over the course of the book or series?
7. …and DON’T focus on inconsequential details.
- Minor demographic traits (typically height, weight, eye color and hair color, etc).
- Side-characters. As much as possible, focus on the mains. If the sides are more interesting than the mains, you have a problem.
- Unnecessary world-building details. If your fantasy world has six castes, please don’t tell us what all six are. Focus on what we need to understand the thrust of the story (perhaps just the caste of the main character and the villain?).
- Superpowers. They’re not nearly as interesting or important as the goal(s) the hero will use them to attain. I wouldn’t recommend spending more than 1-2 sentences on a superhero’s powers.
8. Please don’t bother telling them how much your friends/family love your writing. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t matter. Publishing professionals are a lot more experienced in this field than your friends. Otherwise you’d probably be submitting to your friends.
9. Always behave professionally. Here are some common mistakes.
- Do not call editors or agents unless they have expressly asked you to.
- Most editors and agents will Google you before offering you a contract, so make sure that you’re representing yourself professionally online. (For example, if an author repeatedly complains on a blog about how awful the publishing industry is or how inept a negative review is, that suggests the author may hard to work with).
- Please do not give your readers more information than they need to know. In particular, please do not share your medical/psychiatric or criminal history with strangers unless it’s highly relevant to the project. Double-fail: when writers erroneously suggest they have psychiatric or criminal issues.